Some Perspective on Climate Change
Updated: Oct 28, 2020
The Earth is now remarkably cool compared to very long-term average temperatures. It is almost certainly going to be dangerously cooler after the next glaciation begins. Global warming sounds like a good idea, especially as a warmer world is also greener and more agriculturally productive.
The Earth is now remarkably cool compared to very long-term average temperatures. It is almost certainly going to be dangerously cooler after the next glaciation begins. Global warming sounds like a good idea, especially as a warmer world is also greener and more agriculturally productive. Why make economic sacrifices to prevent possible global warming later on?
Meanwhile public opinion has been misled into worrying about (rather than welcoming) forecasts of possible global warming in a century’s time. These are based on computer models which assume the truth of an untested hypothesis about CO2 led global warming. Now that more data is in the theory is becoming scientifically untenable. It may be time to accept the benefits of any warming we may get.
A) THE CLIMATE IS NATURALLY ALWAYS CHANGING
Everybody knows that the climate changes. There really are next to no climate-change ‘deniers’ in the world. The global warming alarmists’ problem is precisely that the climate has been changing all the damn time in the past. It didn’t get, or need, any human help to do so. For all anybody really knows, global temperatures are still varying with little if any relation to human activity. At the very least the chosen warming alarmists’ hobby horse, CO2, is less important as a climate change agent than they say.
A big problem is an inability or unwillingness to put minor current climatic variations into the context of much bigger, clearly natural, past variations in temperatures and CO2 concentrations. Only in the last century or so has humanity begun to add potentially significant amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuel. Everything about the climate from before that is clearly a natural signal.
A look at past natural climate changes over the long term makes it rather hard to see what the current global warming alarmism is actually about. The first thing to say is that changes in the earth’s climate have been usual, and often pretty abrupt. The most likely future change in global climate is still almost certainly a sudden, deadly cooling when the next glaciation begins.
B) NATURAL CLIMATE CHANGE EVENTUALLY WILL FREEZE US
One very important aspect of continuing natural climate change is that the world has been in what geologists now call an Ice Age for the last two million or so years. The definition of an Ice Age is that the Earth has permanent ice caps at both poles. Most of the time during an Ice Age the world is sunk in lengthy freezing ‘glaciations’.
Over the last half a million years or so we can identify a pattern of long periods of intense cold (glaciations) lasting 70,000 to 125,000 years. These are interspersed with fairly regular, short and warm interglacial periods generally lasting 10,000 to 15,000 years. I refer for much of my information to charts and information found in ‘Inconvenient Facts, The Science Al Gore doesn’t want you to know’ by Gregory Wrightstone.
During each glaciation the North Pole ice cap extended over Britain, northern Europe and much of North America. It made them largely uninhabitable. Average temperatures were very roughly 8 to 10 degrees centigrade cooler than our recent interglacial average. That was not good for those who lived there. Indeed, a return to a glacial climate could be fatal for civilisation.
We are now living in a warm interglacial period. Everything that humans have achieved beyond the hunter gatherer stage, and all recorded history, has happened during this comparatively brief period’.
Absent any success by humanity in raising global temperatures significantly (for which we as yet have no evidence), we must suppose that we are still sandwiched precariously between the previous and the next of these freezing glaciations. So far, this interglacial period has lasted about 10,000 years. Realistically we are likely to be much closer to the end of this warm period than its beginning.
Human populations have been cleared out of Britain each time at the beginning of (all but one of) the last several glaciations. They will be erased again – unless we can warm the planet up a whole lot. That is unfortunately still unlikely. The beginning of the next advance of the ice sheets over Britain is likely to occur within a few millennia, or maybe less.
C) THE EARTH IS NORMALLY MUCH WARMER
Current global temperatures may well be a lot higher than they were during glaciations. But they are also a lot cooler than the earth has usually been outside of rare Ice Ages. For example, we would need to achieve the UN IPCC worst case five-degree centigrade average temperature warming just to be roughly as cold as the coldest climate the dinosaurs ever had to endure.
There were, it seems, earlier ‘ice-house’ or Ice Age periods around 440, 300 and 150 million years ago. In the first two periods, estimated global temperatures at the coldest trough were in the same range as they are now. (The third period, the ice-house period separating Jurassic from the Cretaceous period in the age of the dinosaurs was rather warmer.)
But outside of these earlier, rare and short (geologically speaking) ice ages, the world has been much warmer and wetter than it is now, for almost all the last half billion years. On average the world is estimated to have been generally more than 10 degrees centigrade warmer than current average temperatures. In comparison, we are living in the fridge, if not yet the freezer.
The point is that even the ‘worst case’ warming scenarios - which might (who knows?) head off the next global glaciation - would merely return the Earth to comparatively cool global temperatures. This level of warming cannot conceivably be a threat to humanity, still less to the planet. Instead it could well be a plus.
D) BENEFITS OF MORE WARMING AND ATMOSPHERIC CO2
The important things to remember is that the more CO2 there is in the atmosphere, the more plant life flourishes, and the more food we can grow. Satellite photographs of the earth show a remarkable greening over the last few decades. This is largely due to increased CO2 in the atmosphere. With a peak of maybe 8 or 9 billion people to feed sometime this century, the extra CO2 will come in very handy.
More atmospheric CO2 even helps soil moisture and counters drought. Plants have holes in their leaves to hoover up scarce and vital CO2. The more CO2 in the atmosphere, the less time these holes have to be left open, and the less water vapour is lost. Less water loss means more moisture left in the soil.
It really shouldn’t be necessary to remind people, after over a century of compulsory state education, that CO2 is not a pollutant. But apparently it is necessary. Especially as the state is making children learn a theory of global warming that is not supported by science. CO2 is not ‘dirty’. It is essential to life on earth. It is a key ingredient in photosynthesis. Plants use the energy in sunlight to combine CO2 and water in order to survive and grow. And we eat plants, or animals that depend on plants. Without CO2 we die.
(Here’s a bit of harmless fun you can have with any Greta Thunberg look-alikes you may meet. Ask them to imagine you have developed a CO2 scrubbing machine. At the push of a button, all the CO2 in the atmosphere will vanish. Would he or she push the button? You hit the jackpot if you get the answer ‘yes’. You can enjoy explaining that your philanthropist friend would just have wiped out almost all life.)
The other thing that cannot be repeated too often is that a warmer world is a wetter world. It has smaller, fewer deserts and much greater agricultural potential. It may seem counter-intuitive but droughts are not a sign of global warming. During the long glaciations of this Ice Age over the last two million years, life giving rivers like the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates dried up and the deserts took over. (This is one explanation for humanity’s long delayed escape from sub-Saharan Africa - the expanded deserts trapped us there.)
As well as being much warmer a long time ago, the planet also had much more CO2 in its atmosphere than it does now. There were around 2,500 parts per million (PPM) of CO2 around 140 million years ago – and a peak of 8,000 PPM in the Cambrian half a billion years ago.
E) DANGER OF LOW ATMOSPHERIC CO2 LEVELS
The long-term history of this planet is indeed one of warmth, wetness and flourishing vegetation. But over the eons atmospheric CO2 has been in steady, and recently dangerous, decline.
CO2 has been steadily sequestered to make limestone, chalk (hence ‘Cretaceous’) and hydrocarbons locked in the earth. From 1,000 PPM around the time the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago, it fell to just 300 PPM when this Ice Age began around two million years ago.
During this current Ice Age, the concentration of CO2 fell further during each glacial period. It went as low as 180 PPM in the depths of the most recent glaciation. It was at one point only 30 PPM away from a possible mass extinction event. This would have been caused by plant life beginning to die off globally because of inadequate atmospheric CO2.
Fortunately, it recovered during this current interglacial to around 280 PPM by 1800. It was still below 320 PPM in 1960. The current level of CO2 is thankfully now back up to around 400 PPM. The most recent increase may be due to recent decades of global prosperity powered by hydrocarbon fuels. If so, the Industrial Revolution may have helped save the planet.
F) CLIMATE DURING THE CURRENT INTERGLACIAL
If we take a look at the current, roughly 10,000 year old, interglacial period we see that its first few millennia were noticeably warmer than the most recent – perhaps 1 to 2 degrees warmer. This greater warmth is despite the fact that CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere were then lower than now, They were only 70% of current levels.
In the warmer-than-now first few thousand years of this current interglacial period the Earth was wetter and more productive than it is now. Six thousand years ago the Sahara Desert was open grassland with rivers and lakes. It was still noticeably verdant even as late as Roman times when North Africa was a key grain growing area. Now the Sahara is a true desert, albeit smaller than its original glaciation era self.
Because we are closer to the latter millennia of this interglacial, we can see more detail in their temperature record, including shorter term trends and fluctuations.
We can see that the Medieval period to around the 1300s was significantly warmer than our current climate. This is apparent, for example, in the enthusiastic Viking age settlement of chilly Greenland and Iceland. In Greenland Viking burials are found in permafrost. This strongly suggests that the permafrost boundary was lower – and temperatures warmer – than is the case now. A recent estimate is that the peak Medieval warm period between 700AD and 1100AD was 0.2 degrees centigrade, or more, warmer than now.
Between around 1100 and 1600, there was an erratic descent into considerably lower temperatures – say 1 degree plus or minus a bit – lower. The chill culminated in the so called Maunder Minimum or Little Ice Age of the late 17th Century. The Viking settlement in Greenland was extinguished by 1300 and Iceland only just pulled through the 17th Century.
The period from roughly around 1750 to the present represents a recovery from these low Maunder Minimum temperatures back towards the highs of the most recent, Medieval, warm period. Given this return to warmer times, glaciers have generally been in retreat since the early 19th century - well before human CO2 emissions can have been significant.
As European glaciers shrink, they continue to uncover previously unsuspected mountain passes in the Alps and elsewhere. These are littered with Roman and Medieval period rubbish, plus the odd prehistoric relic and indeed body. These passes were therefore, presumably, in use during times which must have been at least as warm as the current day. Once again it seems our present is not warm by the standards of the last two millennia. It is certainly not as warm as the balmy days of the green Sahara.
Within the trend of the gradual recovery from Little Ice Age minima, there are, as ever, sub-trends lasting a few decades which appear in the increasingly detailed recent temperature record. A very slight cooling sub-trend from the 1930s into the 1970s led to widespread concerns about possible global cooling.
When I was young in the seventies it was ‘settled science’ that we were heading back into a cooler period, maybe even the next glaciation. That was at least a sensible concern. Global cooling is certainly a bad thing. And it is almost certainly inevitable at some stage.
A slight warming between 1975 and 2000 then gave rise to the opposite concern. This was often voiced by the same doom mongers as had earlier promoted global cooling alarmism. The current global warming alarmist narrative, based on a series of untested hypotheses was born.
Since 2000 there has been something very like a twenty year standstill in global temperatures as measured by satellite. The Alarmists are hedging their bets by talking about climate change rather than global warming.
G) CO2 IS NOT AN IMPORTANT GREENHOUSE GAS
From 1975 onwards, CO2 in the atmosphere increased more rapidly than the warming alarmist community predicted in their climate models. But there has not been the proportionate warming that the climate models predicted. There is now a big discrepancy between 1) what the models say global temperatures should be at current CO2 atmospheric concentrations and 2) what global temperatures actually are.
This suggests that CO2 is much less effective as a greenhouse gas than these climate forecasting models assume. CO2 has only been loosely correlated with warming in the recent past. It became more plentiful in the atmosphere from 1930 and 1975 at a time when global temperatures fell slightly. As global temperatures more or less plateaued since 2000, atmospheric CO2 concentrations in contrast continued to surge.
There is indeed a tendency for increases in CO2 levels and in temperatures to occur together. But correlation is not causation. Looking at the record of the last few hundred million years suggests that increases in atmospheric CO2 generally lag warming trends. Indeed, the chart of global temperatures and CO2 levels that Al Gore holds up in ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ also seems to suggest this. In other words, increases in atmospheric CO2 may not cause warming. They may be produced by it.
One explanation could be that CO2 is abundant in the oceans. They are saturated with it. And it is disproportionately soluble in cold sea water. So it may be that warming episodes caused by other factors warm the oceans. These then release more CO2 into the atmosphere.
It is worth remembering that CO2 overall isn’t a potent greenhouse gas. This is not so surprising since there is so little of it. It accounts for just 0.04% of the atmosphere, and successive additions of carbon dioxide have dramatically less warming effect.
CO2 is considered only to account for 6% of the Earth’s atmosphere’s greenhouse effect. Another 2% is accounted for by methane and 2% by other residual gases. Water vapour accounts for a colossal 90% of overall greenhouse gas effects. Fortunately, water vapour can neither be labelled dirty nor toxic (as CO2 has been), nor blamed on human action.
The ‘settled science’ on climate change from the beginning was really very modest. It was agreed that a doubling of atmospheric CO2, as and of itself, would raise global temperatures by at most one, or maybe two, degrees centigrade. Nobody should be concerned by that prospect. Indeed, they should welcome it.
To get any traction the alarmists had to claim that the modest increase in temperature due to CO2 could then be amplified by hypothetical positive climatic feed-back loops which would make the climate warmer still. These involved changes in atmospheric water vapour, and in clouds at various levels. At the time it was not known whether any of these effects really existed, nor whether they actually led to positive or negative temperature feed-back effects of any kind.
Nevertheless, the Alarmists suggested that if a doubling of CO2 occurred by 2100, there could be up to a five degree increase in global temperatures. This would be caused almost entirely by these unproven ‘forcing’ effects rather than by an increase in CO2 itself. This was only ever an unproven hypothesis.
To be fair, at the time nobody knew whether such feed-back loops existed, how strong they might be, nor even whether they were positive, negative or a mixture. Raising these concerns was at that point reasonable. They were a proper object for study and resolution using the West’s unique, extremely effective scientific method to get at the truth of the matter.
A quarter of a century later, however, observation suggests that the feed-back loop effects are collectively quite muted. They are much smaller compared to the high positive feed-back assumptions used in the now discredited climate models. If the scientific method counted, rather than political interest and media scaremongering, climate change alarmism would have faded away by now.
Can we estimate how muted the effect of changes in CO2 might be? Let us assume that all warming is due to CO2. This is a very contestable assumption, partly because the record of the past suggests that CO2 levels are lagging indicators, not causes, of earlier warming or cooling. It is still possible that CO2 related effects are barely relevant at all. We could still be seeing mainly natural temperature signals currently.
However, on the best case we can make for global warming concerns, the maximum effect that CO2 seems likely to have is around 40% of the increase predicted by alarmists. That would mean that future warming is unlikely to significantly exceed 2 degrees centigrade. That would be enough to take us back to the days of the green Sahara of 6,000 years ago. Which would be great.
H) WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
At some stage, unfortunately the next interglacial period will start. This could happen any time from tomorrow to perhaps 5,000 years in the future. It’s unlikely to be later than that and could be much sooner. And the change could be quite abrupt. At one stage at the end of the previous glaciation, there seems to have been up to a ten-degree increase in average temperatures in one lifetime. Going down could be similarly rapid. Clearly the onset of the next glaciation would kill much of the world’s population if it happened in the near future.
In contrast the spectre raised by global warming alarmists is rather, well, lukewarm. Shock, horror, we may inhabit a somewhat warmer, wetter and more productive and attractive planet in a century’s time. That sounds pretty good to me. The climate change alarmists are having to hide the reality that a modest warming would be generally beneficial for mankind.
They also don’t seem to consider the crumby reality of humanity having eventually to live on a drastically colder and drier planet during the next glaciation. Wouldn’t it be good if we could see whether we could warm the planet up enough to head off such a catastrophe?
I) WHY PREVENT A FIVE 5 DEGREE WARMING?
It is worth asking what is the matter with even a five-degree warming anyway. People live in places on earth now that are five degrees warmer than Britain, and some in much hotter places still. Cold kills far more people than heat. People don’t seem to be fleeing southern Spain, California or Florida to come here to enjoy our weather.
A five-degree centigrade warmer world, though still cooler than the average for the last several tens of millions of years, might also spare our (hopefully) more distant descendants from the horror of another glaciation, which would be a very good thing.
And we would get a century to adapt. You can make your city much cooler, if you really want to, by painting it white. Look at places around the southern Mediterranean and the Middle East. We will also be able to introduce warmth loving crop and animal varieties. Being bright, industrious and creative (when not corrupted and misdirected by the state), humans would adapt to benefit still more from the boost to agricultural productivity. Plus, we would save on things like heating houses and swimming pools.
Lack of faith in human creativity and adaptability is crucial to anxiety about global warming, and so much else. The official case against global warming assumes that humanity experiences loss mainly because it doesn’t adapt to what would be a quite gradually warming globe. Farmers are projected to rely on increasingly ill-suited traditional crops and varieties - even though they would become increasingly unsuccessful. Why? Are farmers dumb, or oblivious to profit and loss? In reality, they would switch to profitable warmer climate crops.
J) HOW THE MEDIA SPREAD CLIMATE HYSTERIA
By now, the reader may well be asking about the problems allegedly caused by the minor warming of the last two generations. These are constantly reported by the media.
Fear sells. Stirring up uninformed hysteria about possible global warming is a way for newspapers and TV channels and their advertisers to make money. As with the current corona virus hysteria, the mainstream media (MSM) has irresponsibly repeated unsubstantiated and irrelevant anecdotes in order to keep as large an audience as possible.
In both cases mere anecdote has been used, alongside ill-designed alarmist computer models, to generate unfounded fear to increase audience figures. Crony capitalists - Big Pharma and subsidised renewable energy firms work with globalist power grabbers (the EU, the Davos Crowd and officials everywhere) to take advantage of panicked, misinformed electorates.
Let’s therefore have a look at some standard types of media reports on climate change:
1) Droughts: Australia and California in particular have periodic multi-year droughts. Droughts also occur elsewhere. They are especially serious in fragile third world societies. They make good TV. But they are not evidence of global warming. Remember, a warmer world is a wetter, and better fed world!
2) Extreme Weather: A warming world warms more at night, in winter and at the poles. Extreme weather is fundamentally driven by temperature gradients between the cold poles and the warm tropics. Not surprisingly, extreme weather events are not becoming more common with the recent minor warming we experienced until 2000. Storms are more damaging nowadays because more people are living on coasts, so there is more stuff to damage.
3) Forest Fires: Deaths and damage caused by forest fires in Australia, North America and elsewhere are simply caused by unwise (government) fire prevention policies, and by more people living in and around forests, and by periodic drought – which, as we have seen, is not a consequence of warming.
4) Rising Sea Levels: Al Gore would never have made such a splash with ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ if he had not asserted that warming would bring drastic sea level changes. This is not so. At the peak of glaciation 5.5% of the world’s water was locked up in ice. 11,000 years later the seas have risen steadily by 120 metres. This is an average rise of just over a centimetre a year. This rate shows little sign of changing. However, the remaining water locked up in ice caps, now 1.5%, is almost entirely perched on Antarctica. Average summer temperatures in Antarctica are minus 15 degrees. A five-degree warming won’t cut it.
5) Dying Coral Reefs: Corals on the Great Barrier Reef are reportedly dying due to periodic increases in sea temperatures. Yet the same species live happily in much warmer water nearer the equator. Temperatures are more variable on the Reef. Corals there sometimes ‘bleach’. They jettison their symbiotic algae before replacing them with types more suitable to different temperatures.
6) Localised Warming: Climatologists have discovered that there are Multi-Decadal Oscillations (MDOs) in temperature between different parts of the oceans. If one area of ocean is warming, another area thousands of miles away may be cooling. You’ve guessed it. The warming is repeatedly reported by the MSM, the cooling is not reported by anyone.
7) ‘Hottest Since Records Began’: Since the oldest, Central England, temperature recording series started in 1659, a host of institutions have started their own temperature records. Most days, months or years are ‘the hottest since records began’ for at least one recently established record.
I) WHY DO ANYTHING ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING NOW?
So once the media cacophony is out of the way, what is actually the supposed justification for the sacrifices we are asked to make to avert a warmer, better world?
Officially the risk represented by global warming is basically this:
“People living in a much richer, more advanced world in a century’s time might take a generation or so longer to become four times as well off as we are now.”
It really is something as remote, academic and plain silly as that. Why can’t our much richer descendants pay to sort out any actual downsides to global warming themselves, since they will have the benefits? However that may be, no rational economic analysis justifies incurring major costs to head off such a remote and uncertain eventuality. This means that none of the distortions and costs now being created by muddled thinking over climate change would blight a free, stateless society.
And yet huge costs are being incurred at the behest of governments in the West to do just that. Under the EU inspired zero carbon policy, energy intensive industries have been off-shored, including tens of thousands of British chemical and other industry breadwinner jobs. In Britain, we are made to pay 40% more for our electricity because of a climate policy to depend on unreliable and expensive renewables. The UK grid is approaching the point where the demands of renewables supply will de-stabilise it.
J) STATE ZERO CARBON POLICIES ARE DANGEROUS
Moving to reliance on less energy dense (as well as unreliable) fuel in the form of wood, wind and sunlight represents a badly regressive step. If you halve the average energy density of society’s primary fuel you get higher energy prices. You also need an energy sector which is twice as big relative to the size of the economy. The investment effort needed to do this is staggering, as well as pointless.
There is a big element of crony-capitalist predation tainting this altruistic green cause. Reportedly over a trillion dollars have been spent over past decades on renewables worldwide. This has neither increased renewables’ share of the world’s energy mix, nor developed any significant cost competitive offerings compared to reliable and cheap hydrocarbons.
That huge transfer from consumers’ pockets to various states’ pet energy firms and green entrepreneurs is a pure, predatory dead loss. A simple example here has been ordinary UK consumers paying an unnecessary premium on energy bills to fund payments to landlords of uneconomic (and ugly) windmill farms, such as David Cameron’s father-in-law.
Underneath the green, and green crony-capitalist, drive to suppress hydrocarbon usage, there seems to be a misplaced central planning obsession in the West and especially the EU with preventing people from using them. The result will merely be politically unsustainable impoverishment. Fortunately, China, India and others are continuing to power their growth with abundant coal. Eventually sense will prevail.
The ongoing Industrial Revolution is Liberty’s gift to the world. It has brought constantly rising standards of living globally, precisely by exploiting more energy dense (and incidentally carbon light) fuels. First there was coal, then oil, and then natural gas.
Hydrocarbons may or may not run out sometime, but it is unlikely to be very soon. When I was a child, crude oil and many other resources were all going to run out in the 1970s and 1980s according to the Club of Rome. Now supply is greater than ever and oil is as cheap as it has ever been in real terms.
K) TRANSITION FROM HYDROCARBONS IN A FREE SOCIETY
But what if hydrocarbons at some later stage did indeed begin to run out? What would happen in a free society? Clearly energy prices would rise, instead of falling as they are now. Firstly, this would result in higher cost hydrocarbon reserves being exploited, thus creating additional supply and time to address the energy issue. After all the later the stage at which society has to face such a problem the more wealth and technology it will have to help solve it.
Under the stress of rising energy prices efforts - economically rational rather than clumsy central planning efforts - would be made to develop other more energy dense resources. These would probably be various types of nuclear power, whether Uranium or Thorium based fission, or possibly some kind of fusion.
Governments after WWII irresponsibly promoted inherently dangerous nuclear power station designs designed to generate material for atomic weapons. This has led to popular distrust of the whole idea of nuclear power. A free society would obviously support work along more sensible lines. Indeed, insurance companies underwriting nuclear power projects in a free society would absolutely require this.
One of two possible future outcomes would then materialise:
1) A new cheaper and better energy source would be developed and phased in, as and when it made sense and added most value, or
2) No replacement energy source were ever found. Humanity would belatedly bite the bullet and ‘go green’ but from a higher technological base, and having at least used all hydrocarbons up to improve human welfare rather than leave them unexploited.
Either way, in a free, non-state society we would avoid the fraud and waste of the current premature, state directed shift to renewables being attempted in the West. It is at best too early, and at worst a total waste.